The Goddess Mariyamman in Music and in Sociology of Religion
- Publication date
- Tamil song in praise of the goddess Mariyamman, Madurai Somasundaram (Somu), Sirgali Govindarajan, Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan, Pilgrimage, Caste worship practices, Temple worship, Minaksi (Meenakshi), religious studies, Hinduism, Tamil cinema song, Carnatic music, Indology, Sociology of religion, Music history, Ethnomusicology, South Indian music
The material basis for the remarks is a song in praise of the goddess Mariyamman sung on the one hand in a Tamil movie, on the other in two concerts of classical South Indian music. The authors describe how they came to the decision to analyze this material, and this more biographical part also leads to considerations of a general nature, i.e. to Indians tending to solve a problem atomistically, that is to say, by taking it in isolation, in its very own terms, so that solutions to similar or even substantially identical problems can easily be different to such a degree that, at any rate in etic, outsider terms, the solutions are mutually exclusive. Again, this more biographical part has also occasioned a discussion of Hindu religiosity being easily capable of embracing elements which too are mutually exclusive from the etic point of view.
However, the substantive part of the remarks regards music, in the sense of an attempt to describe, not exhaustively, yet in considerable detail, the differences and the similarities between the movie and the concert versions of the song. The emphasis lies on composition, on how the tonal material, different in the movie song and in its concert rendering, is put together each time, achieving compositional / symmetrical density in that phrases are repeated or varied upon, a density also achieved by transitions based on repetition / quasi-repetition / anticipation. Of no less importance in compositional terms are metrical liberties and the frequent concomitance of religious / literary and musical elements, a concomitance which too leads to symmetrical / compositional density, among other things. Though not central to the remarks, yet not simply marginal too, are the occasional discussions of the contrast between the theory and the actual practice of music and of the far from simple contrast between classical South Indian music, film music and devotional music.
The detailed notations and various appendices added are essential complements to the musicological analysis.
The remarks on the Sociology of Religion of Mariyamman follow, substantially, upon the musicological analysis, though the atomistic approach dealt with earlier is to be sure equally a problem of religious sociology. Yet in this case things were clear enough. As against this, in the remarks following upon the musicological analysis all that is done is to list some of the central riddles the worship of Mariyamman poses: the enormous preponderance of feminine deities; the rationale of blood offerings; a very strong preference for identifying ‘folk-goddesses’, like Mariyamman too, with the ‘high-caste’ goddess Parvati. The riddles are stated in some detail, but no answers are given, for research in the field is not yet in a position to give any.
Four sound recordings discussed in this monograph– the Kapi song and the two versions of the ragamalika sung by Madurai Somasundaram (‘Somu’) as well as his ‘apologia’ – are attached to the present online edition as separate mp3 audio files.
1) Madurai aracalum Minaksi (“She is Minaksi ruling over Madurai")
Kapi raga, adi tala; from the movie Tirumalai Tenkumari ("From Tirupati to Cape Comorin"); sung by Sirgali Govindarajan; music composed by Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan
Mariyamman-Monograph-1_Sirgali.mp3, Duration: 05:31, Audio file size: 2.7 MB
2) Maduraikk' araci Minaksi – live recording ("She is the queen of Madurai, Minaksi")
Ragamalika (1979 version); adi tala; music composed and sung by Madurai Somasundaram
Mariyamman-Monograph-2_Somu.mp3, Duration: 4:36, Audio file size: 2.2 MB
3) Maduraikk' araci Minaksi ("She is the queen of Madurai, Minaksi"), Ragamalika (1977 version); adi tala; music composed and sung by Madurai Somasundaram
Mariyamman-Monograph-3_Somu.mp3, Duration: 5:57, Audio file size: 2.9 MB
4) Apologia, Tamil, by Madurai Somasundaram in continuation of the preceding music example (3)
Mariyamman-Monograph-4_Somu_Apologia.mp3, Duration: 0:59, Audio file size: 474 KB
Excerpt from the review in Ethnomusicology by David B. Reck (Amherst College)
“The authors of this interesting monograph are ethnomusicologist and veena player Pia Srinivasan Buonomo and the eminent Indologist S.A.Srinivasan. Each brings to the topic a unique perspective. The focus of their study is a cinema song with a verse in praise of the (low-caste) village goddess Mariyamman, and the ascendancy of this song into the repertoire of an eminent classical Carnatic music singer, Madurai Somasundaram, (…) and its acceptance by his mostly Brahmanic, cultivated, high-art audience (…)
Buonomo provides us with a full transcription of both versions of the song in Western staff notation, detailed musical analysis, and a substantial background information. As a scholar/performer she is also “street-wise”, and the many anecdotal comments add color and depth to the total picture of the song and its transformation (…)
S.A.Srinivasan’s contribution to the monograph is in several reflective essays examining the questions posed by the appearance of a low-caste folk goddess Mariyamman in the lyrics of a song initially addressed to high forms of the archetypal mother goddess… All in all, Buonomo’s and Srinivasan’s monograph makes fascinating and provocative reading for Indologists, ethnomusicologists, or those interested in the processes of the migration of things musical from low status to high, or vice versa.”
The full review by is found in the print edition of Ethnomusicology (Winter 2005, pp 132-133)
Excerpt from the review in The World of Music 46(1) 2004 by Matthew Allen, Associate Professor of Music, Coordinator of Asian Studies (Wheaton College)
“This engaging volume will reward the attention of those interested in the history of the relationship between popular film music and classical Carnatic music in South India, and of students of Hinduism interested in the changing articulation between high and low caste worship practices (…)
The co-author Pia Srinivasan Buonomo contributes insightful musicological analysis of the performances to the narrative, which are supplemented by detailed transcription in staff notation. S.A.Srinivasan offers remarks in the form of “a graded description of riddles” (…) on the sociology of the worship of Mariyamman as manifest in the song texts and their reception (…)
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